A Quaker in the Middle East – guest blog from an alum

By Maura Connell, B.A. Cultural Anthropology ’08, and now Human Resources Coordinator, Hill International

I think I’m a little bit crazy. Just a little. Just enough to pack my life into three suitcases and move half way around the world to a place I had never been before. In my four years at Penn I studied abroad in South Africa, obtained a research fellowship at the African Department of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and worked at the Office of International Programs, all solid experiences relating to international culture and travel which I thought made me well suited to work oversees. I was excited to travel and thought I was more than ready for life abroad. Little did I know that there was nothing that could have prepared me for my international experiences since May 2008.

Hill International is a worldwide construction claims and project management company, and one of countless companies I applied to in the hopes of working abroad after graduation. For me, that was the defining factor of all my job applications- that I could and would be stationed abroad. I cared about little else and I applied literally to jobs on every continent save Antarctica. If the job I have now hadn’t worked out, my backup was a teaching position in Mongolia. The Hill recruiter interviewing me was perplexed by my social sciences background and the complete lack of construction related-anything on my resume. In asking me what I wanted to do, I said I would do anything (and cited clerical-type work I had done at previous jobs). In asking me where I wanted to go, I said I would go anywhere. I walked out of the interview having been told that I should go home and pack for Vietnam, but then I got a call the following week that the Vietnam project was off.

“But how would you like to go to Doha, Qatar?” I hesitated since quite honestly I’d heard of the place before and could tell you which continent it was on, but I knew little more about it. We talked, I did some research, we talked some more, and then one week later I was on a plane from PHL to DOH.

From July 2008 through July 2009 I was the Recruitment Coordinator for the Doha, Qatar office, solely responsible for the office’s staffing requirements. The Qatar staff was truly global, with 75 people representing close to 15 nationalities. I was the only American. I was also the only native English speaker. I was the first and only recruiter Qatar’s office had ever had (and me without any recruitment experience). I was one of only two women in an overwhelmingly male environment that did not have a secretarial position. And I was the youngest by about ten years.

It would be a lie to write that this past year has been easy or that the transition was relatively smooth. I experienced the common growing pains of a first job right out of college compounded with the cultural challenges of living and working in a foreign country where I knew no one and did not speak a word of the local Arabic language. When talking with friends in Philadelphia, D.C., and New York, they complained about their long hours or the boring content of their work while I worried about the language barriers I face daily and the vast cultural challenges of working for an American company in the Middle East. The differences in the challenges we face frustrated me at times. I often felt patronized at work and stifled in life outside of work in a country under monarchical Sharia law, where pork and alcohol are outlawed (there are a few exceptions, bars and a liquor store) and women, who must cover shoulders and knees at all times, are second class citizens. That said, my year in Doha was absolutely a fantastic experience…

Maura’s post  to be continued tomorrow…

Visit Careers Services’ International Opportunities page for resources and tips for working abroad.

Author: Guest Perspective

Our guest perspective account includes views from Penn alumni, current students and employers, writing exclusively for Penn & Beyond!

3 thoughts on “A Quaker in the Middle East – guest blog from an alum”

  1. I’m sure you would have enjoyed Vietnam, I travel there a lot. Glad you enjoyed Doha. I lived in the MiddleEast for 5 years. DZ

  2. I was contemplating taking Arabic, and now I know I should. I was afraid I wouldn’t use it India or Pakistan, two places I’m hoping to go. I then realized that the FOUNDATION of the language (Arabic) is helping me with Middle Eastern languages. Way to be brave Maura!

Comments are closed.